My dear friend, Jonathan Owen, tells the story of a boy who attended his summer day camp a few years back. In short, the kid was a terror. He was disrespectful and mean, he didn't get along with other campers, counselors or anyone. He was constantly at the center of disagreements and almost daily Jonathan was forced to address a new issue of misbehavior. With patience wearing thin a meeting was called with the boy's mother. The indictments were outlined, but her response was certainly unexpected. Disappointed in her son's behavior she began to reveal the details of the life they had been living. She had just recently been divorced from her husband, which was difficult enough, but only compounded by the recent news that she had terminal cancer and was going to die soon.
Immediately the story changed. This wasn't a bad kid. This was a hurting kid. This was a scared kid, a kid who didn't know what the future would hold for him. He was confused. His behavior, though still needing correction, was a plea for attention and control. Knowing this changed everything. Armed with compassion, Jonathan was able to guide the boy through the remainder of the summer and witness an imperfect but remarkably positive change in the young man.
I can't help but be reminded of our own teams. Even the best people in the world will have seasons when they won't perform up to snuff, when their attitude will be sour, when they can't seem to properly communicate. There's never any excuse for poor performance, but thinking that they don't bring their personal lives into the office with them is garbage. Maybe they're just hurting. Maybe leading with compassion is the best possible strategy.